AS AQA English Language Theorists

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Brown & Levinson (1978)

Brown & Levinson developed a theory to do with politeness strategies in conversation, designed to save face and to reduce the impact of face threatening acts. They came up with four politeness strategies: 

·       Bald on-record: these provide no effort by you to reduce the impact of the face threatening acts. You will most likely shock the person to whom you are speaking to, embarrass them, or make them feel a bit uncomfortable. However, this strategy is commonly found with people who know each other very well, and are very comfortable in their environment, such as close friends and family. Examples include, "help!" (an emergency), "give me that" (task oriented), "put your coat away" (request) and "turn your headlights on" (alerting someone to do something they should already be doing).

·       Positive Politeness: usually seen within groups of friends, or where people in the social situation know each other fairly well. It usually tries to minimise the distance between them by expressing friendliness and solid interest in the hearer's need to be respected (minimise the face threatening act). This can be done by attending to the hearer (e.g. "you must be hungry, it's a long time since breakfast. How about some lunch?"), avoiding disagreement, assume agreement (e.g. "so when are you coming to see us?") and hedging opinions.

·       Negative Politeness: The main focus of using this strategy is to assume that you may be imposing on the hearer, and intruding on their space. Therefore, these automatically assume that there might be some social distance or awkwardness in the situation. For example, by being indirect, forgiveness (e.g. "you must forgive me but..."), minimising imposition (e.g. "I just want to ask you if I could use your computer?") and pluralising the person responsible. 

·       Off-Record (indirect): Removing yourself from any imposition whatsoever. For example, give hints, be vague and be sarcastic or joking. 

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Basil Bernstein (1971)

Bernstein developed a theory, which argues that there are two types of language, the restricted code and the elaborated code. He says that our social group determines which of these we use.

Restricted Code: We all use this, but he said that the working classes tend only to be able to use it. It is characterised by short, simple, sometimes incomplete sentences; limited use of adjectives and adverbs; use of idiom and reliance on implicit meaning. Middle and upper classes use this code when talking to friends and family. 

Elaborated Code: This is used by the middle and upper classes, but not generally by the working classes. It is characterised by more complex, grammatically complete sentences; a wide range of adjectives, adverbs and conjunctions and explicit meanings. 

Bernstein pointed out that the working class were disadvantaged as education uses a lot of elaborated code. Many have attacked his ideas on the grounds that his research wasn't extensive/effective enough to draw the conclusions he did. 

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Jenny Cheshire (1982)

Research has shown that men and women use spoken language differently, mainly in relation to standard dialect and RP. Cheshire looked at the speech of adolescents and compared it to that of adults. She found similar patterns in both. Some examples she found are:

·       Men drop the 'h' at the beginning of words, e.g. 'ouse' instead of 'house'.

·       Men drop the 'g' from 'ing' words. 

·       Men use 'ain't' more than women. 

·       Women use 'isn't' more often.

·       Men more often use 'seen' and 'done' as past tense form, where it should be 'saw' or 'did'.

·       Men use double negatives more frequently, e.g. "I don't know nothing".

Suggested reasons for this is that women are more status-conscious, and that society expects women to behave better/conform more to society's rules. This suggests that women's speech fits with their subordinate role in a male-dominated society. Men are seen to desire covert prestige, while women desire overt prestige. Cheshire found that boys gained respect from others by being 'tough', and saw the use of non-standard language forms as part of this. 

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Howard Giles (1970s)

Among others, Giles developed an accommodation theory. He suggested we alter out speech to fit with the person we are talking to. This results in either convergence (most common), or divergence.

Convergence: decreases social difference between the two speakers (e.g. RP speakers may tone down their accent when talking to working class speakers, or a person with a regional accent on interview might try to speak with a more RP accent to gain status). 

Divergence: emphasises the differences between two people, e.g. two people from different regions might emphasise their accents to assert their regional identity. 

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Irving Goffman (1955)

Irving Goffman developed face theory in the fifties. He said we present a particular image or face to other people, depending on the context and to whom we're speaking to (e.g. friendly to a friend, knowledgeable to a younger person etc.). Generally, we try to accept the face we're being offered as a part of the politeness principle. Not to do so can result in the other person being hurt, offended, or embarrassed. Maintaining face is all about maintaining status. 

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H.P. Grice (1975)

Grice developed the theory of cooperation in conversation. He said that people in conversation generally tried to cooperate. He developed four maxims: 

·       Maxim of QUANTITY: each contribution in a conversation should say neither more or less than required.

·       Maxim of RELEVANCE: each utterance should be relevant to the on-going conversation.

·       Maxim of MANNER: avoid ambiguity and obscurity and be logical in your utterances. 

·       Maxim of QUALITY: tell the truth. 

When these maxims are ignored, they are said to be flouted (disobeyed). Doing so leads to the breakdown of the conversation. People who do so regularly are disliked/viewed negatively. 

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Michael Halliday (1961)

Halliday looked at registers (varieties of language influenced by the situation they're used in). He identified three main influences on the variety of language we use in a given situation:

·       Field: The topic or subject being written/spoken about. This has a strong influence on the vocabulary used. 

·       Manner: The relationship between the participants in the spoken/written conversation. Language is adjusted according to the person/people we are addressing. Level of formality is significantly affected by this too.

·       Mode: Is it written, spoken, a letter, and article?

Registers differ according to lexis, grammar and phonology, all modified to the three influences mentioned above. 

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Kerswell & Williams (1994)

Kerswell and Williams studied speech in Milton Keynes, and found that children's speech differed from their parents, and was getting closer to a London accent. This is said to be because of the migration of people from London, spreading a watered down version of cockney, as well as the accent being perceived as 'cool', perhaps through popular television programmes such as Eastenders. 

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William Labov (1963)

Labov established a link between language use and social class. Social class is notoriously difficult to define, but it can be said (roughly) to be defined by occupation, education and income. Using these criteria, Labov identified 9 social classes:

·       Classes 1-5 were working classes.

·       Classes 6-8 were middle class.

·       Class 9 was upper middle class.

Labov looked at the pronunciation of the postvocalic 'r' in New York (force, poor, alarm). It's pronunciation holds the same prestige as the pronunciation of the 'h' at the beginnings of words in the UK. He did find that, the higher the social class, the more often people pronounced the 'r' in casual speech. However, in formal situations, he found that the opposite was true, suggesting that lower middle class speakers were more conscious of their speech, and more anxious to be seen to speak 'correctly'. 

Martha's Vineyard:

Labov did some research on an island called Martha's Vineyard in the USA. He looked at the interaction of the small local population, and the regular influx of tourists. He found that the island's population (especially the fishermen) were developing a more pronounced accent, especially among 30-45 year olds. He decided that the fishing community were accentuating their accent to establish their sense of community in the face of visitors. All of this was subconscious and an example of divergence with the tourists, but convergence with other islanders.

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Robin Lakoff (1973)

Lakoff argued that conversation was governed by politeness principle. She defined three rules/maxims that speakers usually follow:

·       Don't impose: e.g. could you possibly/ I'm sorry but... (Negative politeness)

·       Give Options: e.g. It's up to you/ it's ok to say no (avoid forcing others into a corner)

·       Make the receiver feel good: e.g. I'd be really grateful if/how would I have coped without you (say things to flatter/appreciate one another).

She also said that, because of the dominant position of men in society, women tend to be more tentative in their speech than mean and use:

·       Indirect request forms e.g. "would you mind?".

·       Tag questions such as "isn't it?".

·       Hedges and fillers such as "kind of" and "you know".

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Lesley Milroy (1980)

Milroy did research into social networks based on research in Belfast. A social network is a group of people who regularly interact with each other. An individual can belong to many social groups (this differs from the view of Trudgill etc. who talked about social groups as being distinct and fixed). The significance of the study is that it shows that people from all sorts of backgrounds often mix together and can become friends. This has an important influence on the language use of these groups. 

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Dale Spender (1980)

Dale Spender presents a feminist view of the way the speech of men and women are viewed. She suggests, although there is a popular myth that women talk more than men, in fact, study shows that it is the other way around. Spender says that men's talk is more highly valued that women's. Men are seen as having the right to talk, whereas women's talk is viewed as just gossip. She says that women are expected to stay quiet in mixed sex discussions. She says that the statement "women talk more" actually means, "Women talk more than they ought to". 

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Peter Trudgill (1983)

Trudgill did some research in Norwich, looking at the effects of social class on language use. He identifies classes according to six criteria: occupation, education, income, type of housing, locality and father's occupation. Using these, he divided the classes into five: 

·       Middle middle-class.

·       Lower middle-class.

·       Upper working-class.

·       Middle working-class.

·       Lower working-class.

Trudgill examined a range of variable, one of which was the pronunciation of 'in'. He found that the lower down the social classes a person was, the more likely they were to omit the 'g'. In all classes, the more formal the situation, the more likely people were to use the 'g'. He also found a similar patter with the omission of an 's' at the ends of some verbs ('he do' rather than 'he does'). This suggested that people were conscious of their speech and attached prestige to 'correct' usage in formal situations. His research also identified that gender was a major influence on language usage. 

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Zimmerman & West (1975)

These researchers analysed single and mixed sex conversations. They looked at interruptions and overlaps (signs of a breakdown in the rules of conversation turn-taking). They found that, in single sex conversations, both sexes rarely interrupted or overlapped (0.35 interruptions per conversation). However, in mixed sex conversations, there were many more (4.36 per conversation). Of these, 98% of the interruptions and 100% of overlaps were by men. The women seemed complicit in this, not seeing it as wrong but simply accepting it. They rarely interrupted men and stopped talking once interrupted. 

They also measured the silences in conversations, with the average in a single sex conversation being 1.35 seconds, and 3.21 in mixed sex conversations. The women were the ones being interrupted and therefore falling silent. Women ended up speaking less than men.

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